hortus conclusus

Hortus Conclusus and King Solomon’s pools: a journey into the Song of Songs

Giacomo Pizzi2 July 2021

A few minutes from Bethlehem, protected by the sands of the Judean desert, there is a cool and peaceful garden: the garden of the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Hortus Conclusus.

The Hortus Conclusus

The idyllic green space owes its name to the Mary of Hortus Conclusus, venerated in Liguria especially in times of pestilence and to one of the sweetest pieces of the Song of Songs (4, 12):

“You are a closed garden,

my sister, my bride,

closed spring, sealed fountain “

A place and a person longed for, fresh and pure, to which we rely completely to seek rest and serenity: the garden guarded by the community of Uruguayan nuns born in the mid-1800s represents all this.

From the mullioned windows of the neo-Gothic style convent, you can admire the plants and flowers of a heavenly garden, certainly very similar to the one that, according to tradition, inspired King Solomon to write the poetic verses of the Canticle in this region.

The convent is in fact perched on a hill above a green valley floor. Here is the village of Artas. The toponym refers once again to the Latin term for “garden” or “hortus”.

The area is in fact incredibly rich in water and is famous for its delicious agricultural products, lettuce and grapes in particular. Here the folk traditions of the Palestinian people are jealously guarded.

The main feature of the place, however, are the perennial underground springs of fresh water. Since time immemorial, the waters of these springs and the rainwater from the surrounding mountains have been conveyed into the so-called “Solomon’s pools”.

Solomon’s Pools

The pools are three gigantic cisterns partly dug into the stone and partly walled up. At one time, they could hold up to 116,000 cubic meters of water.

These huge reservoirs, whose origins are lost in time, fed the large population centers of Bethlehem and Jerusalem with water, pushing the water into them only thanks to the force of gravity.

The Romans, great builders of aqueducts, further implemented the functionality of Solomon’s pools by creating long pipes with terracotta and stone pipes that reached as far as Jerusalem.

The stone joints, perfectly matching each other and, therefore, still potentially functional, are now preserved in the Bethlehem Museum.

Furthermore, the fortress of Qalaat al-Burak is still visible here, the “stronghold of the pools”, built in the 17th century by the Ottomans to defend the site. The pools remained in use until the British governorate when the waters from the springs were channeled into large turbines and new channels.

The village of Artas is a garden of delights not far from Bethlehem, where Pro Terra Sancta also offers the possibility of staying in two comfortable guesthouses. The “walled garden” and Solomon’s pools are a must-see on your next trip to the Holy Land.